The Dutch Pyramid of Austerlitz
Woudenberg, Utrecht ridge
Did you know there is a town called Austerlitz in the Netherlands? Nearby is a pyramid, built by Napoleon’s soldiers. Derek Blyth tells you why.
For a long time, I was confused by a place called Austerlitz, not far from Utrecht. The famous Austerlitz battlefield lies hundreds of kilometres to the east, and it had nothing to do with the Dutch, so what’s the story behind Austerlitz?
Your satellite navigation system will guide you to a crowded car park in the forested upland known as the Utrecht ridge. Deep in the pine woods, there is a theme park with a playground, miniature train, fairground wheel and candyfloss stands. But it’s still a mystery what all this has to do with Napoleon’s battle in December 1805.
Eventually you come to a visitors’ centre that sets out to explain the pyramid and the brief French presence in the Netherlands. You learn that 18,000 French troops were camped out in the woods in 1804. With nothing to do, they were set to work on building a 35-metre-high pyramid that would evoke Napoleon’s campaigns in Egypt. Modelled on the Great Pyramid of Giza, it was named Marmontberg after General Marmont, who ordered its construction.
Louis-Pierre Baltard, engraving of the Piramid of Austerlitz, 1805
It was later named Austerlitz to celebrate Napoleon’s victory over the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz in Moravia. Marmont protested, but the new name has stuck.
Built of local earth and sand, the pyramid was put up in less than a month. But it slowly collapsed over the years until a major renovation was carried out to mark its 200th anniversary. Planted with grass and topped with a stone obelisk, it’s one of the strangest structures in the Netherlands.
The Pyramid of Austerlitz
You can buy a ticket to climb to the top of the grass-covered pyramid. It’s a bit of a disappointment compared to the pyramid built at Waterloo in Belgium to celebrate Napoleon’s final defeat. But there’s always the funfair to console you.